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Protests Turn Deadly Amid Kenyan Election



An opposition supporter reacts in front of a burning barricade in Nairobi’s Mathare district Thursday. – Photo Luis Tato


NAIROBI – Kenyan police fired bullets and tear gas Thursday at stone-throwing protesters in some opposition areas during the repeat of the disputed presidential election, reflecting bitter divisions in a country whose main opposition leader urged followers to boycott the vote.

One man shot by police during protests in the western city of Kisumu died in hospital, police said, while three other people in the opposition stronghold were admitted with gunshot wounds. Protesters set fires and blocked roads. Violence also erupted in Nairobi’s Kibera slum.

Not a single ballot box was delivered to central Kisumu’s 190 polling stations, said a senior election official, John Ngutai Muyekho. He sat with the uncollected boxes in a school guarded by security forces.

“If anyone comes to collect, I’m ready. But so far no one has,” Muyekho said.

One Kisumu school that saw huge lines of voters in the Aug. 8 election was closed, its gates locked.

Voters wait for a polling station to open in the Kibera slum in Nairobi on Thursday. – Photo Darko Bandic

“We are not going to vote and we are not going to allow it,” said Olga Onyanga, an opposition supporter.

Voting proceeded in areas where President Uhuru Kenyatta has support, but fewer voters were turning out in comparison to the August election that the Supreme Court nullified because it found illegalities and irregularities in the election process.

Kenyatta said 90 per cent of the country was calm and Kenya must remove ethnic loyalties from its politics in order to succeed. The president, who was declared the winner in August with 54 per cent of the vote, had said security forces would be deployed nationwide to ensure order on Thursday, and he urged Kenyans to vote while respecting the rights of those who didn’t.

Supporters of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta shout in front of the Supreme Court in Nairobi on Wednesday. – Photo Goran Tomasevic

Voters lined up before dawn at a polling station in Kenyatta’s hometown of Gatundu and electoral workers prepared ballot papers by flashlight after heavy rains knocked out power to the site.

“Our hope for the country is that whoever emerges the winner will be able to unite the country, which is already torn apart by politicians and politics of the day,” said Simon Wambirio, a Gatundu resident.

Opposition Leader Raila Odinga, who got nearly 45 per cent of the vote in August, has said the new election won’t be credible because of a lack of electoral reform and accused Kenyatta of moving a country known for relative stability and openness toward authoritarian rule.

Odinga’s call for a boycott resonated strongly in Kisumu, Kenya’s third largest city. He has urged followers to stay away from polling stations because of concerns about a crackdown by security forces. Human rights groups said police killed at least 67 people during protests after the August vote; authorities confirmed a smaller number of deaths and said they had to take action against rioters.

Kenyan Opposition Leader Raila Odinga, seen here greeting supporters in Nairobi earlier this week, says the vote won’t be credible. -Photo Siegfried Modola

Odinga has said the opposition coalition, National Super Alliance, will become a resistance movement. On Thursday, he said the movement will constitute a “People’s Assembly to guide the country to a fresh free and fair presidential election” as part of a peaceful resistance that will include boycotting goods and services by those who have supported Kenyatta’s “lawless grab of the presidency.”

Odinga and Kenyatta, who seeks a second term, also faced off in a 2013 election similarly marred by opposition allegations of vote rigging. The opposition leader also ran unsuccessfully in 2007 — ethnic-fuelled animosity after that vote left more than 1,000 people dead and forced 600,000 from their homes.

Many observers say Kenya’s ethnic-based politics overshadow the promise of its democracy. Kenyatta is a Kikuyu, while Odinga is a Luo.

The Associated Press

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